(Washington, DC, August 25, 2016) – The agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas on August 24, 2016, to end their 52-year conflict is an unprecedented opportunity to curtail abuses in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. But it includes a serious defect that risks its unraveling: a flawed victims’ agreement reached in December 2015, that could guarantee impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes.
Under the agreement, FARC guerillas who confess could avoid prison time or any “equivalent” form of detention. Instead, they would be subject to sanctions amounting to modest and short “restrictions on rights and liberties” while being required to carry out projects to assist victims of the conflict. The numerous ambiguities and loopholes in the agreement could allow confessed criminals to be released from any such restrictions before their sentences are completed and to avoid any consequences if they fail to comply with the sanctions against them.
Similar sanctions would be applicable to members of the armed forces, probably including many of those alleged to be responsible for the systematic execution of thousands of civilians to boost the military’s count for enemy casualties – known as “false-positive” cases – by army brigades across Colombia between 2002 and 2008.
“Allowing confessed and convicted war criminals to be ‘punished’ by no more than orders for community service is grotesquely insufficient,” Vivanco said. “The international community should not turn a blind eye to this façade of justice in the name of peace.”
Other troubling features of the justice agreement include a definition of “command responsibility” that could be interpreted in a manner inconsistent with international law to allow military commanders within the Colombian armed forces and the FARC to avoid responsibility for crimes carried out by their subordinates. Unlike the definition established in international law, the agreement could require proof that commanders actually knew of human rights crimes committed by their troops, rather than merely had reason to know of them.
“If the Colombian government is serious about ensuring a sustainable peace and respecting victims’ rights to justice, it should use the implementing legislation to fix the serious flaws in the victims’ agreement,” Vivanco said. “For starters, it should amend the agreement to ensure that commanders are held responsible for crimes committed by their troops and to fix ambiguities that may allow inadequate sanctions for confessed criminals.”